Happy Birthday…You’re Being Sued!

Have you ever noticed how people rarely sing “Happy Birthday to You” in movies and television?  Instead, people usually sing “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow,” even though no one actually sings that song in real life.  Nevertheless, this falsification of reality happens all the time.  My favorite example was when the crew of the Enterprise sang “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow” to Worf on his birthday (in Klingon, naturally).  At the end of the song, Worf observed, “that is not a Klingon song.”  Worf’s observation is ironic, of course, because even humans don’t really sing “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow” to each other on their birthdays.  (Well, maybe the humans who speak Klingon do….)

The reason for this falsification of reality is two-fold.  First, “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow” is clearly in the public domain (which means you can use it for free).  Second, Warner/Chappell Music claims to own the copyright to the song “Happy Birthday to You” and charges $1,500 for a “synch license” whenever someone wants to use it on screen.

And until now, no one has ever formally challenged Warner/Chappell’s copyright to the Happy Birthday song.

Continue reading the full story . . . »


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Leggo My Likeness, Part Four

There are so many fun things you can do with celebrities.  In addition to the traditional things like writing books about them, you can also use their catchphrases to make greeting cards; make movies about them using puppets; or even use claymation television to have them fight each other to the death.  But what about including digital representations of them in a video game?

A new case reinforces the holding of a previous case which stands for the proposition that you can’t put celebrities in a video game and then have them do exactly what they normally do in real life.  (For example, a game like “Lindsay Lohan:  Escape from Rehab” simply would not work).

Unfortunately, the case also sets a bad new precedent.

Continue reading the full story . . . »


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Meet Five Celebrities Who Have Had Worse Tax Days Than Yours

In celebration of Tax Day today, we here at Law Law Land offer tribute to our favorite celebrity/IRS run-ins.  Now, lest you think this is just another list airing dirty celebrity tax laundry, think again.  This is a classy publication, as you well know, so if you’re looking for dirt on which celebrities owe what, look elsewhere. . . like here, or here, or here.  Instead, on this national day of tax collection, Law Law Land is pleased recognize five (or more) of our favorite celebrity tax stories of all time… so far.

Honorable Mention:  Timothy Geithner

In our Honorable Mention category of “Really, Are You Kidding Me?,” we recognize former Treasury Secretary (i.e., head of the U.S. Treasury, the folks you make that tax check out to) Timothy Geithner, who underpaid his personal federal income taxes from 2001 to 2004 by failing to report and pay social security and self-employment tax on income received from the International Monetary Fund.  Mr. Former Secretary subsequently amended his returns since he “should have been more careful.”  We imagine he regretted his “unintentional” decision not to report that income when appearing before the Senate Finance Committee during his confirmation hearings to control the United States’ piggy bank.

Honorable Mention:  Nick Diaz

In our Honorable Mention category of “How Dumb Can You Be?,” the award goes to MMA fighter Nick Diaz, who recently announced during a post-match press conference that he has “never paid taxes in his life” and “is probably going to jail.”  Well, if Nick had only read about some of the other people on this list, then he definitely would have seen that coming! Continue reading the full story . . . »


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Bill Maher Prevails Over Donald Trump Lawsuit By Sitting and Waiting for the Donald to Figure Out to Drop It Himself

In February, I wrote about a particularly fake-haired boneheaded lawsuit that Donald Trump brought against comedian Bill Maher.  As you may recall, Trump accused Maher of breach of contract based on a joke that Maher had made on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, in which he had jokingly — really, completely obviously, jokingly — offered $5 million to the charity of Trump’s choice (the Hair Club for Men was Maher’s suggestion) if the real-estate mogul-turned-reality-TV-star-turned-national-punchline could provide proof that he was not, in fact, “the spawn of his mother having sex with an orangutan.”  Ignoring the scientific impossibility of humans and orangutans being capable of producing offspring, and surely torturing his poor lawyer (whom he conscripted to respond to Maher), Trump purported to “accept” this offer by sending Maher a letter enclosing a copy of his birth certificate (short form only, though!) and demanding payment of the $5 million.  When Maher did not respond to the letter, Trump went bananas and filed a lawsuit.

After recounting Bill Maher’s hilarious response to the lawsuit, I boldly joined the near-consensus of legal observers in predicting that Trump would lose the lawsuit.  And I’m here to report, I was wrong — Trump never even had a chance to lose the case, because he dismissed the lawsuit himself, perhaps as a result of his lawyers reaching the same conclusion I did.  (Or perhaps, Trump’s simian brain finally realized that the situation had evolved beyond his control.)

Continue reading the full story . . . »


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Warning to Good Wife Fans: Fake Product Reviews Are Less Legal Than They Appear

Hello, Law Law Land readers!  I took a blogging hiatus during the latter part of my pregnancy and early months of new parenthood, but I’m back.  While certain things in my life have changed, at least one thing remains the same:  my dedication to my favorite TV shows.  But having a 3-month-old means I’m always struggling to stay caught up with those shows, which is why this post discusses an episode of The Good Wife that aired in mid-February.  (If you are also a couple of episodes behind, spoiler alert!  And if you don’t actually watch this show and have no clue who any of these characters actually are, well, sorry.)

In this episode, called “Red Team/Blue Team,” Will and Diane attempt to persuade their stubborn client, purveyor of “Thief” energy drink, to settle a wrongful death lawsuit brought by the family of a teenage girl.  (Obviously, you can assume that the manufacturers of any product called “Thief” are only the most right-thinking, trustworthy clients you can find.)  In order to persuade the client of the weaknesses of the case, they conduct a mock trial, with Alicia and Cary serving as plaintiff’s counsel.  Research revealed that a freelancer engaged by the defendant company had acted as a cyber-shill, and had posted glowing reviews about the drink and its ability to help people lose weight on various websites, without disclosing any affiliation to the company.  (If you want to know what one of these posts look like, just check the comment thread on any unmoderated blog or news website for some unsolicited glowing reviews of various black market pharmaceutical websites.  V1agra, L0se W3ight, W0rk fr0M H0me, fR33 iP0ds!)  When Alicia cross-examines the company’s marketing executive about this practice, he protests, “That’s not illegal!”  Alicia agrees, but argues the company is still liable for a different reason (and of course, she’s our heroine, so it is).

But not so fast on that fake ads issue, my friends.  Maybe television writers don’t have time to research the latest FTC before turning in a script, but lawyers certainly do.  And, pursuant to the endorsement guidelines promulgated by the Federal Trade Commission, an online reviewer of a product must reveal any relationship with the seller, especially a financial connection.  And lest you think that, “surely the FTC doesn’t really monitor these things,” wrong again.  In the past two-and-a-half years, the FTC has become increasingly vigilant about the use of cyber-shills and deceptive claims.  This is especially true when there are health implications to the claims, such as in the case of the energy drink featured on The Good Wife.

As an extreme example, the FTC recently succeeded in ceasing the operations of certain online marketers that allegedly used fake news sites to increase sales of their products.  But the FTC also targets companies whose bloggers post reviews without announcing any affiliation, and significant fines can result (not to mention bad publicity and potential tarnishment of the brand).

As always, businesses should make sure they are being guided by the FTC guidelines and experienced legal counsel, not by TV lawyers.  And writers and producers of The Good Wife, if you ever need a legal consultant for your show, feel free to give me a holler.


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Donald Trump Sues Bill Maher for Monkeying Around on Late-Night Talk Show

Here at Law Law Land, there are a few pearls of wisdom we like to repeat — perhaps to a fault — just because they are so helpful and right.  Copyright law doesn’t protect ideas, only the expressions of ideas.  Being legally right only matters if you can afford to prove it.  And, perhaps most important of all:  don’t mess with the Donald.  Just ask Bill Maher.

In January, Maher visited fellow comedian Jay Leno on The Tonight Show.  There, Maher discussed his “beef” with Donald Trump, who Maher claimed had rejected several invitations to appear on Maher’s late-night HBO show, Real Time with Bill Maher — evidently to Maher’s relief, given that Trump was such “a terrible racist.”  Of course, the ever-gracious Mr. Maher was quick to wish “the best for the syphilitic monkey who does [Trump’s] Twitter feed.”

Seizing upon the “syphilitic monkey” moniker, the conversation led (as it naturally would) into a joke about Donald Trump being “the spawn of his mother having sex with an orangutan” because, according to Maher, “the color of [Trump’s] hair…and the color of an orange orangutan is the only two things in nature of the same color.”  (Obviously.)  Ultimately, Maher concluded the joke by announcing — in an apparent parody of Trump’s (not actually) “very big,” (not remotely) game-changing pre-election announcement (more on that in a moment) — “I hope it’s not true…but unless [Trump] comes up with proof [that he is not the lovechild of an orangutan]…I’m willing to offer 5 million dollars to Donald Trump…that he can donate to a charity of his choice.”  As an example, Maher suggested the “Hair Club for Men.”

The very next day, demonstrating the sense of humor for which he has become legendary, Trump had his attorney write to Maher, formally accepting Maher’s “offer” and attaching a copy of Mr. Trump’s birth certificate, demonstrating that Trump is indeed “the son of Fred Trump, not an orangutan.”  (Can you imagine being the poor lawyer who got that “urgent” assignment at midnight?)  Trump demanded a $5 million payout, and when Maher ignored the demand letter, Trump actually filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court demanding $5 million in damages.  Let me be clear:  this is not actually a joke.  This is a lawsuit that has seriously been filed.

This prompted Maher to assert that Trump needs to understand two basic concepts:  “what a joke is and what a contract is.”  And although we all know how this case is going to end, we would be remiss in not taking this opportunity to dedicate an entire blog post to The Donald’s bloviating buffoonery.  Could Trump really take this lawsuit all the way to the bank?

Continue reading the full story . . . »


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